Coaches are trained to work with clients in any setting by meeting them ‘where they are at’. This phrase means being ready to work with a client in whatever capacity the client wants and is ready for at any particular time. In family law, clients are sometimes left to try to catch up to their lawyers who are racing ahead with their family law issues.  Where a client is paying the lawyer based on a traditional retainer, doing business this way can make sense for a host of reasons. 

But there is a new, or recently discovered, group of family law users who are looking for something different; they are looking for legal advice and other legal assistance when and in the way they need it.  The clients in this market are representing themselves – in negotiation, mediation, and/or court. Some are doing it because they cannot afford the fees associated with a traditional retainer. Many are representing themselves because they want to retain agency and control over their wallets, legal issues, and lives.

But users in this market are not looking to do it alone. They are looking for assistance. Legal Coaching meets the needs of this untapped market.  Legal Coaching is a model for the delivery of legal services that combines a lawyer’s traditional set of skills with some new coaching skills to meet clients where they are at. In the Legal Coaching model, lawyers provide legal advice about the client’s specific family law issues and also help the client navigate the legal landscape. 

In the Legal Coaching model, the client drives the legal bus that holds all their legal issues.   The lawyer, in the role of Legal Coach, acts as the onboard Smartphone. The client can utilize the Legal Coach much like Waze for the route, Siri/Alexa to answer questions, or to call someone who will listen, understand, and support.  And in this model, the client can also shut off the Legal Coach when the client is comfortably and confidently cruising along.

I was called to the Bar in 1995. At the time, there was one way to practice family law.  By 2010, I, like some of my colleagues, had grown dissatisfied with practicing family law in this “traditional” way. I decided it was time for a change and, while continuing to work, undertook a rigorous training program to become qualified as a certified professional coach.  During that training, I spent some time trying to figure out exactly why I was unhappy with the practice of law as I was practicing it. In meeting professionals from various sectors and organizations, it dawned on me that with the exception of collaborative practice, there have been no significant developments in the way we deliver legal services. The legal industry, like all industries, has to change to meet the needs of today’s consumer.  We, the legal professionals, have to be prepared to provide options in the way we deliver our legal services while maintaining our high level of competency and professional responsibility (and ethics, etc).  And we can.  I offer unbundled and Legal Coaching services to clients through Family Law: A La Carte (www.FamilyLawALaCarte.ca). I also hold interactive workshops through Legal Coach Training (www.LegalCoachTraining.com) to give legal professionals the opportunity to learn and practice coaching skills.

By combining the practice of (family) law with some of the skills and techniques used in coaching, we can provide service to a far larger range of family law users. As the public becomes more aware that this service exists, they will begin to demand it. For the time being, those who use these services are simply delighted to learn that it’s an option. For those of us including Legal Coaching as a part, or the entirety, of our practice, it has been a refreshing, energizing, and satisfying shift.

Lisa Eisen was called to the Ontario Bar in 1995 and earned her professional coaching credentials from the International Coaching Federation in 2013.  Lisa is currently working with CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario) on the development of the family law substantive content and questions for the A2JGuided Interviews (Family Law).  Through Legal Coach Training, Lisa trains lawyers and legal professionals to provide legal coaching services to their clients.

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